Most historians agree that up to 200,000 women from the Philippines, Korea, China and elsewhere were forced to work as ‘comfort women’ in military brothels during World War II. An estimated 1,000 Filipinas are believed to have been exploited during the 1941-1945 occupation.
During a review of Japan’s record before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which ended yesterday (Friday, August 18), committee members criticised Tokyo for not focusing enough on the victims.
“I think it is a wound that has been festering for far too long,” committee member Gay McDougall told the assembly.
However, the head of the Japanese delegation insisted his country had offered numerous expressions of remorse and financial compensation.
“The government of Japan recognises that the comfort women issue was an affront to the honour and dignity of a large number of women,” Ambassador Masato Otaka told the committee.
Although he disputed the term “sex slaves”, he stressed that Tokyo had issued “its most serious apologies and remorse” to the women, including through “letters from successive prime ministers”.
He also said Tokyo had “extended its maximum assistance” to a fund set up to offer medical and other support as well as “atonement money” to the former comfort women “to offer them realistic relief.”
He also pointed to an agreement reached between Japan and South Korea in 2015 that said “both countries confirmed that the comfort women issue was resolved, finally and irreversibly”.
Under that accord, Japan offered an apology and a one-billion yen ($8.6 million) payment to surviving Korean comfort women.
However, critics have said the deal did not go far enough in holding Japan responsible for wartime abuses.
“I don’t think that agreements between governments are able or adequate to extinguish the claims of individuals with regards to human rights abuses,” McDougall said.
A statue of a comfort woman installed on Manila’s Roxas Boulevard last December drew criticism from Japanese. As we reported, it was removed under cover of darkness in April.
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